When I go shopping, most of the time I’m disappointed. Two Oscars ago, I couldn’t find anybody to do a dress for me. I asked five or six designers—very high-level ones who make lots of dresses for people—and they all said no.
I have expressed my frustration before at the justifications that people use for why the selection of clothes for fat people is so limited and how they believe that doesn’t constitute fat stigma. They are, of course, allowed to believe that but I disagree and Melissa’s experience brings my disagreement into sharp relief. These are designers who fight tooth and nail to get their dresses on actresses walking the red carpet at the Oscars. As long as those actresses aren’t fat, in which case they seem to have no interest in dressing them. (I really wish Melissa McCarthy would have said who the designers were so that we could do some activism.)
As a fat woman I deal with the lack of clothing that fits me all the time. As a fat athlete I deal with it on a whole other level when clothes for the activities in which I want to participate simply don’t exist in my size and have to be custom made.
Let me quickly tackle a couple of the common arguments I hear about this:
There’s nothing wrong with a designer having a target demographic!
Saying “we want to target our marketing” is not the same thing as saying “we want to make it impossible for all people who look a certain way to wear our clothing.” You can have a target market that is based on the aesthetic that the customer is looking for (what the customer wants to buy), rather than the aesthetic of the customer (what the customer looks like). So a store can make clothes in a wide variety of sizes and then market those clothes to people who are interested in a “preppy” look, or a “goth” look, more classic or more modern etc.
It’s not discrimination, it’s just a marketing decision, companies are allowed to decide what sizes to sell.
It’s a marketing decision to discriminate against everyone who shares a single physical characteristic. Some companies (like Lululemon and Abercrombie and Fitch) have taken this to the next level by using the fact that they don’t sell clothes for fat people as a selling point – suggesting that discriminating against fat people makes them more cool. Marketing decisions do not happen in a vacuum and the phrase “marketing decision” is not a get-out-of-discrimination free card.
But there are stores that only sell “plus sizes”, that’s discrimination too!
If considered technically and in a vacuum, I suppose it’s possible to make an argument. But based on the actual reality of the current culture, I think it’s a derailing and basically indefensible position to take. When you realize that a fat person can be in a huge mall and not find a single piece of clothing in our size, it seems ridiculous to begrudge us the few stores that do sell clothes that fit us Those stores aren’t discriminating because they don’t want thin people in their clothes, indeed most of their clothes mimic those already available in straight sizes, these stores fill a gap so that fat people don’t all have to learn to sew or make our lives into some sort of endless toga party.
I think that the fashion industry has long taken advantage of how easy it is to discriminate against fat people by simply not making clothes to fit us, and acting as if that’s simply an aesthetic choice and not a discriminatory one. I would love to see fashion become about personal expression rather than defining who is cool and who is not (are we seriously adults still trying to be the “cool kids”, could we maybe stop doing that?), or becoming a way to tear each other down (Who has that kind of free time? If I ever find myself with enough time to sit around and judge other people for their clothing choices, I will immediately volunteer somewhere.)
Some really cool experiences for me happened when I got to attend the New York, LA, and Chicago premieres of American the Beautiful 2 – The Thin Commandments, a documentary in which I’m interviewed (it’s available on Netflix!). One of the things that made the experiences really special was that I was dressed by Igigi by Yulia Raquel. They were amazing and the dresses were beautiful and fit me perfectly. (It was also a serious relief because I wasn’t sure where I was going to get a dress that I actually liked since my shopping prior to hearing from them uncovered a lot more “mother of the bride” than “red carpet.”)
Yes it’s legal to refuse to make clothing for fat people, but the fact that something is legal does not make it right, or protect it from critique. I think that this has institutionalized and internalized fat stigma written all over this. Clothing designers and stores don’t want their clothing associated with us because of the stigma that is heaped on us, and many fat people don’t call them on that bullshit because we don’t believe we deserve the same shopping experience that thin people get, we’ve been encouraged to buy clothes that are too small as “motivation,” or to wait to buy good clothes until [insert body size manipulation goal here.] That’s bullshit, and it’s bullshit that we have every right to fight.
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